The 2020 Chess Boom

Jack Ready

APR. 22, 2021

Recently, the more than a millennium old game, chess has had another revival and once again a popular hobby.

Recently, the more than a millennium old game, chess has had another revival and once again a popular hobby. Chess’s last boom was in the 1970s during the Bobby Fischer era where Bobby Fischer, an American player, dominated chess at a high level and was dubbed the best player in the world and some say the best in history. Chess has a variety of reasons why it has become so popular and it's important to understand why this revival has occurred. Chess.com, one of the most popular chess websites, reported that their playbase has increased 66% since pre-covid times. The board game has, once more, become popular due to Netflix, esports, the changing nature of the game, the pandemic, the variety of modes, and Twitch streamers.

The primary reason it became popular was due to the influence of both on-demand media and social media. Netflix, the most popular show streaming platform, released a Netflix Original called “The Queen’s Gambit,” a show they claimed was “set during the Cold War era, orphaned chess prodigy Beth Harmon struggles with addiction in a quest to become the greatest chess player in the world.” The show did very well on Netflix and it showcased the intensity of the game of chess and its complex depth. Twitch, a creator streaming platform, had a large increase in chess attention as Grandmasters (the highest rank in chess) and creators, watched for their personality, began to stream the game. These types of streamers showcased both chess at a high level and a lower one, as the popular creators introduced it to a newer audience while the grandmasters entertained a more experienced audience or people captivated by chess - who was introduced by the popular creator - and were wanting to improve their skill in the game. These two media platforms greatly increased the attention raised around chess and increased its popularity among the youth.

Chess also breached the esports world due to its switch to a variety of game modes. Originally, chess in competitions would be played in the traditional format where there were no time constraints and players would have unlimited time to make a move; this was flawed, from an appealing to the audience perspective, as competitions were slow and moves would take upwards of 30 minutes. Famously, a player took 6 hours to make their opening move. Esport chess handles this differently as the most popular category, known as “bullet chess” has (maximum) 6-minute games; this accurately gains the audiences’ attention as the commentary is thrilling as the game is a lot more fast-paced and thus more interesting to watch - there is also less draws as players have less time to think which means they won’t always make the best move. Esports have given the game a lot more attention and made viewing the game a lot more accessible to the public.

There is also a variety of modes that the player can play which switch up to the original style of chess, there is a mode where 4 players can go against each other at once and another where the major and minor pieces in the bottom row are scrambled changing the common openings played to something new. The thing about these modes is how simple they are to learn which is a part of how popular they are, it’s the same pieces just played in a different setting. It gives chess a fresh feel while being free to try.

The pandemic has also given chess a massive growth spurt as people have been given a lot more free time. Due to fewer time constraints, people are in search of new hobbies and chess. It’s an easy game to learn, however, it has endless depth and can take decades to reach the top rank in the game. Chess has, once again, had a massive growth spurt and is reaching new heights never seen before.